Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Once you find your way through the maze of creative writing, you’ll never get lost again

            I’ve been on the road to writing historical fiction forever, however I can’t say I was always totally aware of that. Many years ago my sophomore English professor—I think his name was Mr. Marcum—called me into his office. I remember it as if it happened yesterday. We chatted for a while about For Whom the Bell Tolls, our reading assignment. Then he stopped abruptly and said, “You are one of the most perceptive students I’ve ever had … and you write well too. You should consider a career as a writer.”
            I had to stop myself from laughing out loud. It didn’t sink in at all. I had other plans. I can’t remember what they were but I definitely had them. I was an art major at the time, a fact many people now find difficult to believe because I went on to become a journalist. So, eventually, I did write for a living—every day I wrote about every kind of thing a person could possibly imagine, most of it not remotely interesting to me. But when you’re on daily deadlines, you don’t have the luxury of being interested.
            So that brings us back around to my English professor and his class. We had an assignment every week to write an essay stating our opinion. It could be about a book, or a movie, or something in the news but we had to construct our thoughts in an orderly fashion. It was my first time to do that and what I learned holds me in good stead to this day. I remember sitting on my bed pulling the sentences out of my brain like you would pull sore teeth out of your mouth. They weren’t perfect and my sentences still aren’t perfect but the thinking was good discipline. It opened up certain pathways in the synapses of my brain, the pathways of cognitive thought that end up in the garden of expression. Once you go down that pathway, you never have to lose your way again.
            “What exactly is the main character all about?” Mr. Marcum asked me that day in his office.
            “He has a heightened sense of duty and that guides all his actions,” I said.
            “How is that expressed in the writing … not the words, but the writing?”
            “It’s sparse and direct and the writer has shed his skin.”
            “Yes, and why did he do that?”
            “Because he wanted to reveal the character’s motivation.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Mr. Marcum said. “And motivation is at the core of all storytelling.”
            Thus began my thinking about writing and my pathway to writing fiction.